Aphorism: what it is, main characteristics, types of aphorisms and examples


What is an aphorism?

The aphorism refers to a type of sententious statement of which it is possible to know its origin, since it has been one of the expressions of oral literature that has remained in force throughout generations, and has been modified or has given rise to these manifestations that have been recorded in writing.

It is characterized for being the result of experience and for having a cultured sense in which the degree of knowledge that the author has is expressed, as well as the preferential cultured use and the high degree of internal fixation that it can reflect. Thus, nowadays it is possible to know a great variety of aphorisms that are attributed to important characters of history, real or fictitious, and in which it is possible to find literary figures, philosophers, among others.

Main characteristics of the aphorism

Let us now look at a series of aspects and distinctive features of this type of expression that will allow us to distinguish it from other manifestations in the literary tradition. These features are:

Intention of the aphorism

In the first place, we have the aim or purpose of the aphorism. In this case, this oral expression becomes a statement, hence its sentential character, in which a principle is made known in a concrete, coherent and direct way to an audience or reader. It is characterized by the fact that this type of statement is apparently presented as definitive.

Complementary uses

In addition to the sentential implication, the aphorism has been used throughout history as a complementary resource to the manifestation of thoughts, especially, so that different types of records developed, particularly in Classical Greece, contain aphoristic elements with which it is sought to support theories, demonstrations and other ideas. Some of the authors who used the aphorism as a resource for this purpose were Hippocrates, Democritus, Heraclitus of Ephesus, Aeschylus, Pindar, among others.

However, it is known that also throughout literature and philosophy, the use of aphorism was very frequent not only in authors of this era, but also in many who will leave important works in posterity.

The result of experience

One of the key axes that allows us to distinguish the aphorism from other forms of oral and literary expression has to do with the fact that the aphorism is the direct result of experience. In this way, the manifestation, coming from experience, can be used in a great variety of fields, especially and most of the times in spaces where the scientific method is not applied.

Pillars of aphorism

Among the most important elements of this type of expression, three fundamental pillars stand out. On the one hand, there is conciseness, through which the words used are capable of expressing the “determining” ideas of what is to be said. Secondly, there is brevity, since the aphorism is a considerably short expression, and then there is coherence, through which the words used follow an idea that can be applied and interpreted correctly in various situations.

Dissipation of doubt

The aphorism is presented as a “definite” expression, idea or thought. In this sense, when it is enunciated, there is no possible space to doubt about what is emitted through the assessment or the idea, it does not generate concern about what it means and therefore it is conceived as a fact that it is or should be so.

On truth

It is important to consider that although the aphorism is presented as a truth, it does not necessarily correspond to an absolute truth, this aspect of truth being one of its objectives. In fact, it is possible that what an aphorism points out does not necessarily occur or correspond to the truth of what happens in a given circumstance. The idea can be questioned by the listener or reader.

What is an aphorism

Types of aphorisms

According to the content of the aphorism, as well as its origin and even its intention, it is possible to identify a great variety of aphorisms. Among them we find the following:

Ethical aphorism

It is a type of aphorism that contains a moral and ethical sense in which a type of conduct considered correct is established or a specific behavior is condemned. It is a type of generic aphorism in which the listener must identify the fault, correct his action or heed the advice given.

Professional aphorism

Also called aphorism of scientific origin or simply scientific aphorism, it refers to a sententious statement that comes from a particular field of knowledge, whether scientific, technical or professional, which is why it is associated with this type of space. It is often referred to as a principle, law or postulate, depending on the environment in which it is enunciated.

Political aphorism

This type of aphorism encapsulates a doctrine or aspect in relation to politics, so that it can summarize an ideology, for example. Much of the time the political aphorism will depend on the context in which it is used, since in some cases it is possible to find statements very similar to the ethical aphorism.

Example of aphorism

As we mentioned, the aphorism, coming from the experiential environment, has the power to be applied in a great variety of spaces. An example of an aphorism is the one presented below:

What does not kill me, strengthens me.

It is surely an aphorism we have heard often. It indicates how throughout different difficulties or obstacles, that which is complex and in many cases hurtful, is able to strengthen, reinforce and nurture the experience, the learning and with it, manages to prepare the human being according to the situation.

To learn more about other types of oral literature, in our section dedicated to this field you will find a list with all the expressions of oral tradition. There will also be a section dedicated to the artistic field where you can learn much more about the world of literature.